Domestic Economy

Talk of LatAm-Mideast Commercial Bridge

The Iranian FM accompanied by a 120-strong delegation of private sector representatives, economic officials and diplomats left Cuba on Tuesday for stage two of a whistle-stop tour of Latin America to improve business ties in the region
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif Addressing the first business forum between Iran and Cuba at the National Hotel in Havana on Monday.Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif Addressing the first business forum between Iran and Cuba at the National Hotel in Havana on Monday.
Zarif has labeled the Iranian delegation’s visit “a new chapter in relations with Cuba”

Iran and Cuba signed a memorandum of understanding to strengthen commercial ties during the first business forum between the two nations, which took place late Monday at the National Hotel in Havana, the official state news agency of Cuba, Prensa Latina, reported.

Chaired by the Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment of Cuba, Rodrigo Malmierca, the meeting surveyed avenues of mutual cooperation.

Zarif said Iran can become “Cuba’s commercial bridge” to the Middle East while Cuba can facilitate connections between Tehran and Latin America.

Talking to reporters aboard the plane en route to Havana on Sunday, Zarif said Iran’s principled policy is to strengthen economic and political relations with Latin American states, and the trip is aimed at preparing the ground for broader interaction between Tehran and these countries.

“The Islamic Republic has close and longstanding relations with Latin America and is determined to take its ties in this important region of the world to a higher level,” he said.

According to Zarif, sixty members of his delegation are from the private sector, namely in fields such as industry, mining, pharmacy, medicine, food, trade. Twenty others are economic executives.

“This shows the importance of Latin America in Iran’s economy,” he said, and said the rare visit is “a new chapter in relations with Cuba”.

  Shared Experience of Sanctions

Iran and Cuba have both been the target of US sanctions over the past several decades. Restoration of Cuba-US relations and the removal of western economic sanctions on Iran is expected to boost investment, trade and consumption in the two countries as both economies open up after years of isolation.

US Presidents Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raúl Castro announced moves in December 2014 to reestablish diplomatic relations and to loosen travel and economic policies after a prisoner exchange.

Sanctions against Iran over its nuclear energy program were lifted in January as part of a landmark nuclear deal it signed with world powers back in July 2015. In exchange Tehran has agreed to limit the scope of its nuclear activities.

“Iran and Cuba have both endured cruel sanctions imposed by the United States,” said Zarif at the opening of the Havana forum, stressing that such bans have enhanced the perseverance and resistance of the two nations.

“Iran and Cuba enjoy broad interaction on the political and international scenes and their cooperation must improve in the economic sphere,” he was quoted by ISNA as saying.

According to the Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration, Iran exported more than $1.5 million worth of goods to Cuba during the past Iranian fiscal year that ended in March, which was a 29% decline compared to the year before. Iran’s imports from the Latin American nation during the same period stood at more than $194,000, a 51% decline.

Latest data on bilateral trade pertains to the first four months of the current Iranian year (March 20-July 21), during which period Iran exported 1.7 tons of goods valued at $21,900 to Cuba, down from $500,000 exported during last year’s corresponding period. Auto radiators were the only exported commodity from Iran to Cuba. No imports were registered from the Caribbean state during the period.

Zarif arrived in Cuba on Sunday, accompanied by a 120-strong delegation of private sector representatives, economic officials and diplomats. He left Havana on Tuesday for the secondl-leg of a whistle-stop tour of Latin America.

Zarif is spending a day in Nicaragua before visiting Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia and Venezuela in an effort to improve business ties.

Zarif’s visit to Latin America comes after his tour of West Africa in late June, during which he, along with a 70-strong politico-economic delegation met with top officials of Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea-Conakry and Mali in their respective countries to push for stronger relations.

Agreements were signed in the fields of auto and customs affairs with the four West African countries during the six-day visit.